Friday, October 31, 2003

What's At Stake

There's an interesting report here studying the impact of various news sources on their audiences. Needless to say, Fox does not come highly recommended.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Here's the link

I think I screwed up posting the link again, since I don't see it. If so, here it is.

Media Reform Thoughts

My long post again got deleted by this @$#@$#! website, so here's the short short version:

Media control is important because it shapes attitudes.

Wholly state-controlled or wholly corporate-controlled media is very bad because it presents an unreal rosy picture of its sponsor and allows the sponsor to get away with murder (literally) in both cases.

The solutions are:

1. Have a BBC-style government-funded network with the same resources as and competing with the corporate ones. Each will expose the other's biases and the other's sponsor's screwups and malfeasance.

2. Have accuracy laws modeled on (and stricter than) truth in advertising laws for the news media. Thus, when Fox News reports that "we have now found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," their asses get sued. I haven't decided the best way to work the enforcement of such laws and welcome thoughts. If it is left up to the FCC, industry capture renders the laws meaningless; if private lawsuits are allowed on the public's behalf, a glut of political lawsuits chills investigative journalism. One potential solution would be to allow private suits but make the loser pay all the costs of the suit.

3. Have laws insulating the news people from the owners and advertisers, whether corporate or government. This is probably the most controversial of the proposals, and probably unworkable. If it can be done, it protects the integrity of the news media.

P.S. I need to remind myself to go easy on Fox News, as they seem to be out of control with the lawsuits:

Ball? What ball?

Or in this case, kill the guy we say has the ball.

U.S. Says WMD Went from Iraq to Syria

UPI has this report (thanks to the Drudge Report for bringing it to my attention).

When I was a kid, we played this game called "kill the guy with the ball" (there was a far less approving name for the game as well). Well, it looks like Syria's got the ball.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Gearing Up for Media Reform

I was wondering whether any of you care to share your thoughts on the best funding approach for the news media. In America, the default developed pretty much shortly after the development of radio that the airwaves belonged to the public and yet licenses are granted to allow private control over the flow of information. The US government gives paltry sums to PBC (through the CPB) and NPR, but the amount is truly negligible. This is contrasted with the BBC model, where until recently the government had direct control over content and, I would suspect, subsidized the production of this content heavily (although admittedly I do not know whether and how much of BBC's funding is derived from commercial sources).

Some people would argue that government funding or too much participation by the government raises serious constitutional (First Amendment) concerns. Even if the government did not directly act as a censor, this would be the inevitable result every time the funding were debated in Congress. But all the same, I think it is indispensible that there is at least one reliable and independent source of news (and I do credit PBS/NPR as that source now) and it should be entirely funded by our tax dollars. Surely this is not a panacea, but one source that has adequate funding to investigate and report on tough issues is a good place to start. Do you agree?

A quick clarification (honest)

I didn't intend to imply that Hamas was irrational or insane; just inflexible, fanatic, and willing to die before compromising its principles--the main one of which is the elimination of Israel. Will they accept half a loaf if it's offered them now that they have grown and possibly become more pragmatic? I don't know, but I doubt it. Hopefully, we'll get to find out. Sorry for any confusion.

Is Hamas Irrational?

(Barry's effort to make peace notwithstanding, I wrote most of this last night and am going to post it anyway. Try a roadmap next time, buddy.)

Dave, obviously your information is different from mine. Your position is certainly a valid one. I will freely admit there may be things I do not know. It is difficult to find relatively unbiased and well-researched material on the subject, and it is not one I have invested any great time in. What I know comes from links, the likes of these: Hamas Overview, Hamas & Fatah, and the BBC. I will acknowledge that it is entirely possible that behind the scenes this group is just a virulent and single-minded as the day they were founded. I, however, will continue to operate under the knowledge that is available to me, and as such will wait for Hamas to prove through their actions that they are other than they make themselves out to be, that being aggressive, ruthless, and violent, but ultimately rational. I just have a couple final points by which I support my position:

1. This is a dangerously naive view, and one that ignores history. Was Hitler monumentally stupid? How about Stalin? Tojo? History is filled with intelligent, capable people who have subscribed to an ideology committed to the inferiority of one group of people compared to another--and a desire to eliminate the undesirables. ... In fact, Hamas' leadership are both
intelligent and fanatical.

But were they irrational? (Hitler in the later days was arguable both insane and monumentally stupid, but the others?) My reading of history says that it is generally more dangerous to assume fanatacism and irrationality in an adversary than to assume rationality, even when their actions are difficult to understand. The former frees you from the need to try to understand your opponent or even treat them as a human being, since clearly there nothing that can be done with them short of total obliteration. It also generally leaves you misjudging and underestimating your opponent. Many of the most awful acts of history have been carried out by people who saw their targets as less than human, or somehow less human than they themselves are (including those examples you listed). Unless there is overwhelming evidence to prove that this group of people is essentially insane (or tightly under the grip of insane leadership), I will always assume the opposite. After our own isolated encounter with terrorism I had sit by and listen to more discussions of turning "the Middle-East into a parking lot" and other sordid idiocy than I can count out here in suburbia. While we have done our share of stupid things, we have not turned the Middle East into a parking lot, nor do I think we intend to. That the Palestinians, after 30 years of violence and oppression, have developed a culture where similar remarks are commonly made about Israel hardly surprises me, nor, I think, does much to condemn them. East, west, north, south, people are people.

2. Hamas has grown in stature and their role in the Palestinian community has changed over time. It would seem strange to me if their leadership and values did not reflect this. Hamas is not the small militant group that it was in the late 80's and early 90's. They, according to many commentators, now surpass Arafat's Fatah in power and popularity. With growth generally comes mainstreaming. The "Hamas & Fatah" link above brings this out in particular. In the "Impact of Oslo" section it discusses divisions within Hamas as to how to deal with the follow-ups to Oslo, and divisions with regards to how to deal with the elections for the PA, and it suggests that Hamas took it easy on Netanyahu, all indicating they have already at times contemplated softening their hard line to play for mainstream power. In fact, that article (which I had never seen until today) pretty neatly covers my views on the group, particularly their analysis of the present conflict and Hamas' prospects in it at the end of the article. This is why when Nassin and other Hamas leaders make statements about accepting a 2-state solutions, and perform actions of goodwill in order to facilitate negotiations, I tend to take them at face value. They are becoming the dominant political power in Palestine, and there is a certain level of pragmatism that often goes with that. All of the evidence available to me suggests that this is the case. If there is some critical information out there, hidden from me, I could be totally wrong. But I don't think I am being unreasonable in thinking as I do. If by their words and actions they can continue to fool me for some long period of time, so be it. If by all observable actions they counterfeit, over a period of years, the appearance of a more moderate organization, interested in peace, the results may eventually be the same as if they were, in fact, that. If they walk like a duck, and quack like a duck...

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Israel--Palestine: Who's really to blame?

I want to jump in briefly to say that I have really learned a lot from reading you two debate this issue, and that the level of discussion far surpasses anything I have come across in the mainstream media. I fear that the vigorous nature of each argument may have caused both of you to entrench into your positions, when really I think there is a lot in common. With your patience here is a brief attempt to summarize the debate as it has developed thus far. I am sure that neither of you would agree with all of my characterizations, but here is how I saw things unfold, anyway:

Joe started by saying that Palestine has a limited patience (if any) for a two-state solution, as it is only a matter of time and sex before Arab Israelis gain insurmountable numbers, and Israelis are right (in Joe's opinion) to question its government's current approach.

Dave seemed to agree that it is in the best interest of both sides to work toward a two-state solution quickly, and that the moderates in each camp favor this approach. Dave raised the challenge that both sides face from extremists and their ability to stall or destroy any progress by terrorism. Dave argues that (moderate) Palestinians should be just as anxious to get to a two-state solution because Hamas has been successful at marching the population farther away from compromise by drawing more aggression from Israel, weakening the Palestinian Authority, and seeding their ideas in the minds of the public (both in and outside Palestine). Dave forecasts that Hamas's all-or-nothing approach will never succeed, as the United States will probably never abandon Israel and the rest of the world will probably not choose to come to blows over this issue.

Joe disagreed that Palestine has any urgency on its side, and emphasized that Israel should take its share of the blame for the failure of Oslo and the road map and less should be placed on Hamas. Joe agreed that Hamas has been successful at achieving popularity in the populace, and argues that Hamas even reflects many of the mainstream positions (like a two-state solution, not to mention charity work throughout the state). Joe suggests that any peace-brokering must be done with Hamas at the table because they better represent the public and because they could actually enforce the agreement, compared with the Palestinian Authority, who in his view has only grown farther from the public (and has grown more corrupt along the way).

The following appears to be where the biggest rift has formed. Joe suggested that Hamas (and the Palestinian people, presumably, to the extent the group reflects the public will) is rightly hesitant to give up its only "bargaining chip" for a deal that is less than fair, which I take to be Joe's characterization of Oslo.

Dave agreed that there is plenty of room for criticism in the Sharon administration and argued that terrorism may be partly to blame for the right-wing administration, as the attacks immediately preceding the election probably weighed heavily on the minds of the Israelis when the went to the booth. Dave replied to Joe's contention that Israel can't wait but Palestine can by noting that a two-state and one-state Palestine solution are not the only options--a third (Palestine wiped off the face of the earth by the mighty U.S.) should provide good cause for concern that waiting may not be in the best interest of the Palestinians, either. Dave seemed to hold that Oslo was a good bargain for both sides and suggested that terrorism should never be used as a bargaining chip and certainly (from Dave's point of view) Israel should not be faulted for insisting on the end of terrorism as a condition for peace. I take it Dave holds that terrorism to achieve peace is a method that can never (never?) be justified. Dave also challenged the legitimacy of Hamas and its expression of mainstream views, and wondered aloud why Hamas has not taken the step of repudiating its charter, which would always stand in the way of ever earning a seat at the bargaining table.

Joe did an excellent job summarizing the escalation of the conflict and derailment of the roadmap, and I will let his factual contentions alone other than to say that Joe persuasively argues that Hamas's recent conduct demonstrates a calculated and rational organization and not the extreme group as many portray it. Joe then again stressed his viewpoint that Palestine can afford to wait much longer than Israel and downplayed the threat that America would use its force for anything that far outside what the majority of Americans believe (cough, Iraq, cough). Joe agreed that Hamas's charter does not help its cause but argued that the group itself has come along way since then and the group should be judged on its contemporary actions and words, which demonstrate a willingness toward peace.

Dave took a cautioned approach toward Hamas's rhetoric and conduct, contending that there is ample reason to doubt that a lasting two-state peace is really what they are after.

So where does that leave us?

In all candor, I don't care who caused the latest unraveling of the peace process, and I don't care who--between Israel and Palestine--can hold their breath the longest (although amongst us boys, I am sure that my lungs are far bigger than any of yours. It all comes from having a big mouth). I want to get to a lasting peace, and I think there were excellent points raised that suggest some of the things that must be considered along the way:

1) A one state solution means the other state loses entirely. Neither side will give up without a lot of bloodshed, and I contend that bloodshed is a bad thing. Therefore, two states are better than one.

2) The moderate majority on both sides want peace, and recognize that a two-state solution is the only way to get it.

3) Palestinians have two bargaining chips: time and terror. Although both together may provoke response from America in its all-out "War on Terror" (Copyright 2003, CNN).

4) Israel has all the traditional measurements of power and sovereignty, but cannot survive forever on its current path. Undoubtedly, the people recognize that their existence is fragile and want to work toward peace, but accepting terror as a legitimate method of accomplishing one's political objectives seems too much from the Israeli perspective.

Ultimately, both sides must refrain from retaliatory conduct and commit to a two-state solution. If a compromise is struck that the majority on all sides agree is "fair," and any actions taken by extreme segments of society are immediately rejected as wrong and punished by a third-party magistrate (the International Criminal Court seems to me the most likely candidate), there may be a way out of this mess. Thanks Joe and Dave for the amazing debate and for allowing me to add my thoughts to the mix.

I guess I have to respond

I was going to leave this one alone, but the tone of the last post forces me to respond. I apologize. As Joe correctly guesses, I base my views of Hamas on much more than their charter. For example, government wiretaps of the Hamas leadership meeting in Philadelphia in 1993 discussing their strategy post-Oslo and specifically agreeing on each of the "conspiracy theory" elements. I'm not sure if the transcripts are public records yet, but they are part of the report prepared by FBI counterterrorism director Dale Watson on U.S. organizations' funding of Hamas. The report is part of the administrative record in the HLF v. Ashcroft case. I will find out if it is public record, and if it is I will share it. Also, every year at least until Hamas was designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization by the U.S. government in 1995, Hamas-supporting organizations held a convention in different cities in the U.S. in which various speakers including actual veiled terrorists spoke in front of a banner reading "Islamic Palestine from the river to the sea" and demanded the blood of the Jews. One such charming gathering, I believe in 1993, featured children singing on this topic and punctuating their song with choreographed knife thrusts.

A good source for an overview of evidence on Hamas, which I know isn't priveleged, is the Hamas chapter of Steven Emerson's book "Jihad in America." Suffice it to say, from everything that I have seen, there is ample evidence that Hamas is no more than an intractable fundamentalist terrorist organization which believes that it can eradicate Israel through drive-by shootings and suicide bombings. I realize that I'm sounding like Bush when I say, "I've seen the information. You can't. Trust me," but this case I'm working on really did change my views on the topic. I used to agree with you.

I gather from your tone that you really feel strongly about this one and think that anyone who doesn't agree is an idiot. However, I want you to consider for a minute the possibility that the weaker force isn't always in the right. I can give you my response to your incredulous questions, but I fear that this is one on which we may have to agree to disagree as so many people before us have. Anyway, here goes:

1. How do you explain that Yassin, despite ample excuses to back out provided courtesy of the IDF during his negotiations with Abbas, agreed to the truce? Another ploy?

Hamas is all about the PR. They wanted to look like they were being super cooperative to gain support from people like you who are watching internationally. They know a truce is meaningless, as they have never kept one, so what was the harm of staying in (especially since the IDF actions would provide cover for breaking the truce at any point). Essentially, your question is: why would Hamas take a free public relations opportunity in which they had to concede nothing meaningful to them and had the opportunity to gain world support? I never said they were stupid, just evil.

2. Like convincing the Palestinian people that Arafat is corrupt (which I have never heard a whiff of, and which your own analysis of Arafat's actions in regard to Oslo contradicts)?

This is one of the strategies explicitly agreed upon in Philadelphia in 1993. It's actually pretty logical. They needed to discredit Arafat before he completed a lasting peace agreement, but could not oppose the process directly because the world was unanimously behind it (except Syria, whose sole importance in the Middle East is the fact that it can, and routinely does stir up Palestinian attacks on Israel--also discussed in the meeting). Thus, just attack the messenger, and don't do it directly. Instead, turn the vast influence you have over the Palestinian people to discrediting Arafat. Do I have direct proof of this? Like a leafletting campaign? Or a witness who says that a Hamas guy showed up at his door and talked down Arafat? No. What I do know is this: The PLO and Hamas have always been rivals. The Oslo accords threatened both Hamas' goals and political power. The leadership of Hamas met to discuss how to deal with them. They decided to discredit Arafat as corrupt with the Palestinian people. Arafat has been to some degree discredited as corrupt by the Palestinian people--although the current situation has resurrected him somewhat.

I simply don't understand what the second part of your question means. Arafat probably signed the accords for a variety of reasons: he wanted peace, he wanted to be an international hero (maybe even win a nobel prize), and he wanted to consolidate his own power. Whether that makes him corrupt and/or whether Hamas subsequently embarked on a campaign to discredit him are neither here nor there. I don't understand the claimed contradiction.

3. Or slyly convincing the West that Israel is in the wrong (something, again I have seen no evidence for)?

Again, a strategy agreed upon. It seems to me to be a successful one; you, for one, are convinced.

4. Or putting Sharon in power?

This alone among my claims was a stretch. There is no explicit call for getting Israeli hardliners into power--just a desire to derail the peace process and force a conflict. I took that in conjunction with the calculated attacks on the eve of the election to infer that that was the strategy.

5. And if you believe them to be so supremely shrewd as to be able to pull off all of the things you claim them responsible for, how does this jive with your belief that they are so monumentally stupid as to believe all the bogus crap in their charter?

This one is where the true problem comes out. You are so anxious to see Hamas as a rational Western-style actor that you automatically dismiss the charter as "monumentally stupid" and just assume that anyone intelligent can't believe it. Therefore, Hamas must either be unintelligent or they don't believe it. This is a dangerously naive view, and one that ignores history. Was Hitler monumentally stupid? How about Stalin? Tojo? History is filled with intelligent, capable people who have subscribed to an ideology committed to the inferiority of one group of people compared to another--and a desire to eliminate the undesirables. Often, these people subscribe to dogma filled with "ridiculous tripe."

In fact, Hamas' leadership are both intelligent and fanatical. They believe their charter because it is part of their religion. There are countless references to religious dogma in it, and the things in it have been ratified by religious scholars through fatwas.
I think at the end of the day, you either have to believe that Hamas is capable of compromise, or it isn't. That they would make a deal with Israel or they wouldn't. Anyone's individual evaluations of these two questions determines whether they see Hamas as part of the problem or part of the solution. We clearly come down on opposite sides of that question.

However, I think that we do agree that a peace agreement creating a Palestinian state should happen and that each side bears some degree of the blame for the fact that it has not gotten accomplished in the past 36 years.

The Original PATRIOT ACT Critic Speaks Out

Senator Russ Feingold has an editorial in this morning's Washington Times calling for repeal of some of the Act's more troubling provisions.

Monday, October 27, 2003

SecDef on the Defensive?

You may recall some discussion here back in July on possible fissures opening up in the previously air-tight front presented by the Bush administration. As the situation in Iraq continues to deterioration, it appears that the press (particularly the liberal press) is starting to pick up the scent of blood and are letting the dogs off the leash. In the past few days I've run across this article in Asia Times, a Joe Klein column in Time Magazine, and this Time Magazine article (to answer the title question, he's certainly lost this Mojo). All three of these tend to fix on Rumsfeld. It'll be interesting to see how much longer he can keep his head above water. Not only does he piss off liberals to no end, his operating style tends to upset congresspeople of all types, the press, and the military. He would make an altogether ideal scapegoat for Iraq, if it comes to that.

Post of the Week

My slashdot post of the week. From a discussion regaring the traffic light controllers used by emergency vehicles starting to hit the public market.

Come on, fellow libertarians! (Score:5, Funny)
by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday October 26, @08:52PM (#7316229)

We're going to hear a lot of people calling to make these devices illegal- except in the hands of qualified emergency response personnel. We must resist them. Traffic light control is yet another prime target for deregulation and privatization, and keeping these wonderful devices out of the hands of ordinary citizens restricts our liberty to control intersections that we've paid for with our tax dollars.

Competition and free markets make everything better. They work great for companies, which is a strong indicator that they improve everything else, too- like public schools, the electrical power grid, and traffic lights at intersections. Why should emergency response vehicles receive a government-granted monopoly on the control of traffic lights? This is just old-fashioned, socialist thinking. If I want to turn my light green and yours red, and I'm willing to pay money for the privilege, why shouldn't I get the right of way? I've got more discretionary income, which means my time is probably more important than yours anyway. Government should not be standing on our necks and telling us who can and can't control traffic lights. The "invisible hand" can do a better job of guiding traffic through intersections anyway!

I can hear the socialists whining even now. "But what about the poor ambulance and police cars?" they'll say. They're so addicted to government regulation they don't realize how wonderful things would be if it were every man for himself. Hey, why should the government have a monopoly on ambulance service and law enforcement? My Expedition has plenty of room in the back for a heart attack victim or a criminal. If I'm willing to pay the money I should be able to offer a competing emergency response service as I sail through an endless sea of green lights and yap on my cellphone. To argue otherwise is socialist, and we've learned from the fall of the Soviet Union that socialism doesn't work, people.



Both sides believe that they can afford to wait; the Israelis for the U.S. neocons to extend their blundering in Iraq into an all out war against fundamentalist Islam, which would swallow up the Islamist Palestinians and enable the Israelis to deal with the remaining leadership on its terms; the Palestinians simply wait for the rest of the world to ride to their rescue against the Israel-U.S. alliance, the U.S. to fall as a world power or for the U.S. to withdraw support from Israel.

I have never gotten the impression that either side expects these things to happen. If they do expect it, these are pipe dreams at best. But demographic shifts in the region are not pipe dreams. It is quite certain that the Israeli Jews will be outnumbered by Arabs in a relatively short period of time. When that occurs, the Arabs need no longer demand an independent nation, removal of the settlements, right of return, etc, etc. They can drop all of their demands, and ask for a single thing: a vote. While the US can stand with Israel on all of these other issues, I do not believe (and I'd be surprised if you think this is the case) that the US will support Israel in denying these people over whom the Israeli government has ruled for some 30+ years the right to participate in that government. Once it comes to this demand the situation is very much analogous to South Africa, another US ally whom we eventually had to abandon once it became clear that their actions were too directly in conflict with our purported values and beliefs. Once the situation is that of a minority of Jews ruling over an Arab majority without political representation, creating essentially a caste class system, it will be politically untenable for the US to stand behind Israel. And once global political and economic pressure forces Israel (whose economy is already coming apart at the seams) to let the Palestinians vote, Israel loses. This is not pipe dreams, that's the political reality of the situation. The Palestinians can wait, the Israelis cannot.

Yassin's statement that he was willing to accept a two-state solution ranks up there on the credibility scale with George W. Bush saying he's a compassionate conservative whose tax cuts help the poor and O.J. Simpson saying he's innocent and hot on the trail of the real killer.

I find it interesting, I guess, the way you lay out some the claims against Hamas. Sure their charter says a lot of bad things, but it was written nearly 15 years ago, and most of it is rather laughable (ie. blaming Jews for carrying out the Holocaust). You do yourself a disservice if this is the basis on which you are evaluating the actions taken by Hamas. How do you explain that Yassin, despite ample excuses to back out provided courtesy of the IDF during his negotiations with Abbas, agreed to the truce? Another ploy? Like convincing the Palestinian people that Arafat is corrupt (which I have never heard a whiff of, and which your own analysis of Arafat's actions in regard to Oslo contradicts)? Or slyly convincing the West that Israel is in the wrong (something, again I have seen no evidence for)? Or putting Sharon in power? This all seems to reek of conspiracy theories. The words and actions of Hamas line up in a perfectly consistent manner to indicate they are willing to negotiate for peace in the form of a two-state solution. What, aside from a 15-year old document consisting mostly of ridiculous tripe, do you have to make you believe that the words and actions of Hamas are no more than an elaborate scheme? And if you believe them to be so supremely shrewd as to be able to pull off all of the things you claim them responsible for, how does this jive with your belief that they are so monumentally stupid as to believe all the bogus crap in their charter?

A Roadmap Timeline

Just to back up my earlier comments regarding this summer's Middle East peace roadmap, I pulled together some links from BBC.

June 10 - Despite ongoing talks between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas in order to arrange a cease-fire, Israel attempts the assassination of prominent Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, drawing condemnation from the West, and around the Middle East.

June 29 - Despite the attack, and despite a round of arrests, after negotiations with Abbas Hamas announces a truce for 3 months in order to test Israeli commitment to the roadmap.

Aug 8 - After more than a month of relative peace, the Israeli military raids Nablus and kills two Hamas leaders. The IDF also kills two bystanders gathered after the initial attack. Hamas re-affirms their commitment to the roadmap, but warns that there will be specific reprisals for this attack.

Aug 12 - Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades stage minor attacks in response to the Nablus raid. One person was killed in each attack.

Aug 14 - Israel responds by killing another militant leader.

Aug 20 - Islamic Jihad and Hamas come back with a particularly brutal attack that kills 20, injures 80.

The Aug 20 attack was followed up by the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Abu Shanab and the attempted assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas. After this attack, Hamas vowed to "open the gates of hell" and the roadmap was officially finished.

What I get from this is not an irrational organization hell-bent on derailing the peace process. Hamas, despite suffering ongoining attacks right up to the day before Yassin agreed to the truce, signed onto a cease-fire in order to help the roadmap along. The Israeli military stated at repeated occasions that they felt that they were under no obligation whatsoever regarding the truce since that was simply an action undertaken by the Palestinians. They continued their operations against the militant groups throughout the entire time. Hamas and the other organizations responded to Israeli operations in a tit-for-tat manner until an attempt was finally made on the Hamas founder, at which point the gloves came off and the game was over. Hamas is a rational actor, willing to participate in the peace process if given an opportunity. It is to all of our disadvantage that they continue to be regarded as a convenient scapegoat by which to essentially blame the entire conflict on the evil actions of the childish Palestinians.

An initially intended to be brief response

1. I have no love for the Sharon government. I agree that they cater too much to the right to the detriment of peace. My only point here is that the Sharon administration was partially, and deliberately, brought about by Hamas through the prolonged terrorism campaign just before the last Israeli elections which finished moderate Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

2. Both sides believe that they can afford to wait; the Israelis for the U.S. neocons to extend their blundering in Iraq into an all out war against fundamentalist Islam, which would swallow up the Islamist Palestinians and enable the Israelis to deal with the remaining leadership on its terms; the Palestinians simply wait for the rest of the world to ride to their rescue against the Israel-U.S. alliance, the U.S. to fall as a world power or for the U.S. to withdraw support from Israel. Which is more imminent?

3. While not intending to completely reopen our good discussion from February on whether there is such a thing as "legitimate terrorism," the "bargaining chips" the Palestinians were asked to give up at Oslo--and agreed to by Arafat--are the terrorist acts prohibited by the Geneva convention. Rightly, the Israelis have always insisted that the cessation of terrorist acts be a prerequisite to any peace deal. Arafat was free to reject the terms at the time, but he did not. Rather, he agreed in a personal power grab and Hamas repudiated the agreement, spit on the authority of Arafat and the PA, and resumed terrorist activities. Against that background, I think the Israelis had every right to consider the agreement breached and proceed with military activities.

4. Yassin's statement that he was willing to accept a two-state solution ranks up there on the credibility scale with George W. Bush saying he's a compassionate conservative whose tax cuts help the poor and O.J. Simpson saying he's innocent and hot on the trail of the real killer. In fact, Article XIII of the Hamas charter plainly states that "initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement [(Hamas)]." Article XI begins: "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered; it or any part of it should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings or presidents, neither any organization or all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that." And for good measure, Article VII: "The prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation has said: 'The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)'"; and Article VIII (the official slogan of Hamas): "Allah is its target, the prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes." The more colloquial Hamas slogan is, and has always been, "Islamic Palestine from the river to the sea."

When Arafat began his negotiations, the PLO had a similar charter. Arafat publicly repudiated it in 1988 as a prelude to the peace talks. Noone in Hamas has even considered such a step, because no one in Hamas actually wants a negotiated peace. Any statements to the contrary are simply a public relations move for the benefit of the West.

5. There are conflicting stories of who broke the roadmap ceasefire first.

6. I agree that Arafat is perceived as corrupt and ineffectual by the Palestinian rank and file. Another successful Hamas operation. Hell, he probably is corrupt and ineffectual without any help from Hamas. You'll notice that he's still around despite the fact that Hamas could seize control from him any time it wanted. The reason they don't is simple: they don't want negotiations to be successful. If the negotiations were their responsibility, they would be put in the box of having to negotiate in good faith (which is antithetical to their purpose) or transparently sabotage the talks. They are much happier hiding in the corner behind the straw man Arafat and throw bombs (quite literally). I agree that Hamas should be at the negotiating table. That they are not is the crux of the problem. Unless they change their ways, Israel and the West have no choice but to continue to deal with Hamas with missiles (and other devices which go boom).

Welcome to Iraq

Welcome to Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz. I hope you enjoy your stay. As you can see,your little operation has created quite the land of peace and prosperity. Hopefully your experiences there can give you a little better idea of what you have gotten us, and the Iraqi people, into.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Re: One state solution Gaining Ground

Dave, I had written a lengthy response, but my computer crashed and I lost it, so I'll give the shorter version here. First with regards to my initial post, I want to clarify my premise. I believe at this point that the vast majority of people on each side (including the current leadership of both sides) favor a two-state solution. I also, however, believe that Ariel Sharon's government, despite their ultimate belief in the necessity of the 2 states, is resolutely unwilling to take the steps necessary to implement one. Further, I believe that this is a very stupid decision on their part, because the Palestinians can afford to wait, but the Israelis cannot.

The reason there is no peace is not Hamas. Oslo failed because it was a completely one-sided deal. The Palestinians were expected to surrender all of their bargaining chips in exchange for some limited civil control over certain areas of the occupied territories. They were also supposed to have some military control over areas of it, but Israel never honored that, nor do I believe they meant to. The Israelis always maintained the right to move their military into any area of the occupied territories as and when they pleased. Essentially Oslo asked the Palestinians to surrender all of their bargaining chips in exchange for a small slice of what they wanted. There was no requirement for a sovereign Palestine, for removal of settlements, for release of political prisoners, for right of return, for free travel and commerce through and between the territories, no guarantee of a Palestinian half of Jerusalem. Oslo was never, ever going to fly, regardless of Hamas' actions. And the roadmap failed, not due to anything Hamas did, but because Sharon's administration is too dependent on the extreme right to be able to take any action whatsoever against the settlements. They were unable to deliver anything resembling the promises for their side of the roadmap.

The founder and leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, stated in 1997 that he was willing to accept a two-state solution, a statement that has been echoed by other Hamas leaders since. To insist that their actions regarding the various peace plans are motivated simply by a desire for the destruction of Israel is silly. Hamas signed on to a ceasefire for the roadmap quite willingly and without any real pressure being applied. They honored it too, until assassination attempts were made against them by the Israeli military. As far as interfering with Arafat's Palestinian Authority, I would tend to phrase it the other way around. The PA is considered by Palestinians to be horrifically corrupt. The Palestinian people really do not like Yassir Arafat at this point, but don't feel they can abandon him as long as Israeli actions allow him to play the role of the martyr. Hamas is very much in touch the Palestinian street and is quite popular among them, both for their attacks on Israelis and for their charitable work of building schools and hospitals, etc. As Arafat's PA has become more corrupt, Hamas has become more mainstream. The balance of power in Palestine is shifting, and Hamas is at least the equal of the PA, if not its superior. Hamas is who should be at the negotiating table, instead of the PA (or at least alongside the PA). Hamas would make sure they got an agreement, unlike Oslo, that the Palestinian people could live with, and Hamas, unlike the PA, would have the ability to deliver on their agreements. If this conflict is to be solved before the Palestinians abandon the two-state solution, it will only happen if Israel and the West deal directly with Hamas (and I don't mean with missiles).

Friday, October 24, 2003

Fantastic website on Iraq intelligence

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (the same folks who, I think, publish Foreign Policy mag) have put together one of the most comprehensive websites I have found on the WMD and other issues leading to the recent Iraq war. I have not yet had time to really sink my teeth into this website, but I can already tell that it is really meaty, so I thought I would give you all the same opportunity to feast.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Re: One state solution Gaining Ground

If I read him right, Joe's premise is that the Palestinian people and government want a two state solution to the conflict, while the Israeli people and government don't. In actuality, both populi are divided on the issue between the hardliners and the moderates. Among the Palestinians, this divide is between the Islamists (with Hamas the largest player) and the secularists. From everything I've seen, since the 1993 Oslo accords, the Israeli population has moved toward acceptance of the two state solution, while the Palestinian population, spurred on by Hamas, has moved away. I suppose that's the "losing interest" of which Joe speaks.

What has actually happened is that Hamas and its supporters made an organized decision in the wake of the Oslo accords to oppose and undermine any efforts to actually bring about a separate Palestinian state. The Hamas charter claims all lands which have ever been under Muslim control as Muslim lands and vows to secure them via jihad. While presently applied to the entire state of Israel, the logic could be applied to Spain, Greece, and a host of other sovereign countries. An English translation of the charter can be found at

Since the Oslo Accords in 1993, Hamas has steadily and successfully done three things to force an all out war for Israel: 1. Undermine and render ineffective any Palestinian Authority government; 2. Use terrorist acts to weaken moderate Israeli leadership and cause the Israelis to respond in kind, enabling international onlookers to find sympathy for the Palestinian side; and 3. Use its massive financial resources to build in the Palestinial community and, in so doing, indoctrinate the population. Today, I would bet that if an honest, somehow binding vote were taken of both populations on the question: Should Israel revert to its 1967 borders and the remaining lands become a Palestinian state, resolving all disputes and ending all violence?, the Israelis would overwhelmingly vote yes while the Palestinian vote would be very close. And every day Hamas is at work, the numbers drop further.

I'm not saying that the Israelis don't have their own hardliners standing in the way of peace and the two state solution. One killed Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. I am saying that the bigger obstacle to peace is Hamas, a sort of combination terrorist group/mafia/religious cult. That they have turned Israel into the party in the wrong in the eyes of so many in the West goes to their effectiveness.

However, their dreams of dominating all of Israel are still farfetched. Regardless of what Israel does, the U.S. will back them up until the end of time, and despite the current U.S. blundering, I don't see the rest of the world taking on the U.S. over this issue. Nor do I see the pro-Israel influence within the U.S. fading any time soon, especially after 9/11. Especially since the powerful traditional pro-Israel lobby has gained two new and unexpected allies: the neoconservatives and the Christian Right.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

One State Solution Gaining Ground

CSM had a roundup today of the latest foolishness out of the Israel/Palestine conflict. It mentions, amongst other things, that some Israelis are questioning whether dropping bombs on crowds of Palestinians really helps their cause, that Israeli efforts to oust Arafat have successfully driven his popularity level with Palestinians to its highest level in 5 years (as predicted previously on this blog), and that the US joined Israel, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands (a more distinguished group of nations is difficult to imagine) in being the only nations to vote against a UN resolution condemning Israel's security wall.

In our previous discussions on this topic, I believe I have stated my opinion that the urgency in implementing a two-state solution lies on Israel. That if they fail in this regard, it won't be long before Palestinians lose interest in that approach and embrace a one-state solution. The demographics of the situation are such that if a one-state solution were implemented, the Palestinians would be ruling it by the end of this decade. And if the demand for a second state is dropped, it will become very difficult for Israel to explain why they have two distinct classes of citizens, with unequal representation in government and unequal protection under the law. The political and economic pressure on them to implement a one-state system would be overwhelming. Essentially, I think failure on the part of the Israeli government to establish an independent Palestinian state within the next 2-3 years will put the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state in severe jeopardy. According to CSM article, this idea is gaining increasing support from Palestinians. They link to this NRP transcript which gives a very good overview of the subject.

Also in the news today, this piece on the BBC about President Bush's trip to Australia. The description of the security around the trip (the 2nd half of the article) caught my eye. These incredibly elaborate security regimes tend to make my skin crawl. There seems to be a general trend over the past 5-10 years (possibly starting after the Seattle WTO protests) to isolate and insulate the powerful people of the world from the rest of us. Combined with the equally pronounced trend of the powerful people consolidating ever more wealth and power, its, well... creepy. These sorts of trends don't often come with happy endings.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Re: Building A Better Democracy

I have been trying to gear myself up to the media concentration conference, and my mind keeps returning to the same point Joe raises in his previous post--even if "good" information is available, how can the public be convinced to pay any attention to it? I recognize Joe raises the point in the narrow context of promoting effective leaders, but I think the same concern exists with regard to all kinds of information.

We certainly do not lack of quality information or even appropriate filtering mechanisms for distributing the information. Why then focus on media concentration as the source of the problem? If I want decent news, I can find it and I reckon that others who are equally interested can find it too.

How can we build a better democracy when the people--the very foundation of democracy--are not interested?

Building A Better Democracy

Back from my vacation (FYI, it's cold in Canada) I spotted a couple of articles on addressing different aspects of American democracy that could use some improvement. The first covers the need forindependent leadership institutions for the purposes of promoting, researching, and publicizing information relevant to the selection of effective political leaders. The press seems to have lost interest in this (unprofitable) role, replacing investigative research with press-release journalism. Baker's solution to the problem seems overly simple and ignores some critical issues (such as, even if the information is out there, how do you get people to read/watch it?) and ignores the obvious difficulties in implementation, but the general theme is quite relevant and the problem is an important one. The public would be well served by trustworthy and neutral expert opinions which can counter the spin and funny numbers the candidates start throwing at each other with regards to their policies. The second article addresses the presidential debates, and the monopolistic control that the two major parties have over them. Apparently a group of activists is attempting to establish an alternative, open source-type, debate format. Again, I would mark their chances for success (at least in the 2004 timeframe) as exceedingly unlikely, but it is an important issue. The debate format needs to be one that is not restricted to the two major parties, and one that truly challenges the candidates to the limits of their abilities. I think public sentiment has been growing in this direction for some time, and given another 10 years of public lobbying it might very well happen, particularly if we see any more 3rd party candidates of any significance refused entry to the debates.

Another amazingly effective Bush administration policy

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he 'didn't want to see any stories' quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used."

Monday, October 13, 2003

Re: Contempt proceedings of Ashqar (or--"Sometimes the law has something")

It is important for purposes of understanding my concern to distinguish between civil and criminal contempt. At the time the judge locked Ashqar up, he had not been charged with a crime and was not on trial (indeed--the government had no intention of prosecuting Mr. Ashqar--they offered him full immunity for his testimony). The judge decided, under the powers afforded him by the Recalcitrant Witness Statute (18 U.S.C. sec. 1826(b)), to imprison Ashqar as a means of coercing him to testify. The district court and the Seventh Circuit both decided that he might be susceptible to some arm-twisting into talking. I found this conclusion to be ludicrous.

Now, he is being prosecuted for criminal contempt (18 U.S.C. 401(3)). Criminal charges, of course, bring with them a host of procedural protections that are not involved with civil proceedings. I do not take issue with the District Attorney's decision to indict Mr. Ashqar for disobeying the court's orders (although I find its selective use of criminal contempt charges a little puzzling).

I don't know whether Mr. Ashqar is an evildoer. But it disturbs me that someone can be labeled with a scarlet T by the government and that suffices to throw the normal protections our system offers out the window.

Sometimes the law has something

Ashqar is a key figure in the web of American organizations which funnel money to Hamas and ultimately bring about hundreds of civilian deaths through terrorist actions. Without getting into the relative merits of the Israel/Palestinian conflict, I don't think that I go very far out on a limb to say that Hamas is a destructive force and one of the major impediments to a lasting peace between the two sides. Hamas terrorizes both Israeli civilians and Palestinian leaders who wish to pursue a peace that does not include the obliteration of Israel. Basically, I would put people who actually belong to and work for Hamas on the legitimate list of evildoers.

Ashqar's organization, the Al-Aqsa Educational Fund was one of the two major U.S. organizations funneling money to Hamas. In 1994, he attended a planning meeting with representatives of the other organization, Holy Land Foundation For Relief and Development, and senior Hamas leaders, which was taped by the FBI. HLF was just declared a "terrorist organization" by Barry's future employer, the D.C. Circuit. The opinion can be found at Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

He has dodged several subpoenas, including one in the civil case that I am working on. While I agree that much of what the government is doing right now is beyond the pale, I don't have much of a problem with the contempt sanctions in general or their application to Al-Ashqar. He is in the predicament he is in because he refuses to cooperate with several legitimate legal proceedings. He has the option of asserting his Fifth Amendment rights in response to particular questions should the answers be incriminating. He refuses to even do this. I have no doubt that the man has fortitude, but there comes some point at which the legal system--especially that which existed pre-9/11--must be respected.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Media Concentration study

I have been scouring the net for information to prepare for our conference on media concentration in search of a real debate on the issue, but admittedly, it is hard to find real arguments favoring the FCC's position allowing media concentration. The best debate I was able to find was on Open Democracy, between Media Reform representative Robert McChesney and Benjamine Compaine. McChesney's piece may be found here (anti-concentration, of course) and Compaine's piece may be found here. James Curran continues the debate here, and David Elstein attacks McChesney's position here.

The Nation has an interesting article about media concentration and describing the "big ten" media corporations, which may be found here.

He fought the law and the law won ... again

(Thanks to How Appealing for bringing this to light) A Palestinian activist who refused to provide a federal grand jury with any testimony he believed would harm his family and friends and bring retribution on himself ended up in jail again after being indicted on contempt charges, according to this Washington Post story.

Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, a former professor at Howard University, refused to provide any information but his name, his address, and his profession. I find this story interesting because Mr. Ashqar spent 180 days in jail 5 years ago on the same issue. Being held in prison on contempt charges are not meant to be punishment, but are meant to encourage compliance with government subpoenas. After remaining on a hunger strike the entire time he was in prison last time (the prison system force-fed him to keep him alive), you'd think they would learn he does not wish to speak. But according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in this opinion, this time they think it's different--he's older and wiser, they say.

Mr. Ashqar has been on a hunger strike since September 5, when the government took him in custody for failing to cooperate with their investigation. He may be held until the grand jury concludes its investigation, until the government (again) concludes that the imprisonment is ineffective, or until he complies. My heart is with you, Mr. Ashqar.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Update: A victory for liberty and freedom from tyranny

According to this Washington Post article, the government has appealed the ruling of Judge Brinkema in the Moussaoui case. The notice of appeal may be found here. The government has asked for permission to file extra-long briefs and asked for an expedited ruling.

According to the Classified Information Procedures Act (section 7), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals would be required to hear oral arguments within four days of adjournment of trial and issue an opinion four days after that. However, because the appeal was not taken during trial, the court is not under the same time pressure but will probably act quickly all the same. I believe the trial court's decision was sound and should be upheld by the appellate court. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

The Washington Post seems to think that this appeal means the government has decided to forego a military tribunal, but I would not be surprised if the government changed its course after the Court of Appeals upholds the district court. Of course, if it succeeds, then there would be no reason to resort to a military tribunal. Again, we'll just have to wait and see.

Re: Commercial Solicitation, or State Action Redux

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of the District Court's order preventing the national do-not-call registry from taking effect. The ruling may be found here.

Good result, but the ruling was weak, in my opinion. The court focused on the fact that the restriction offers a choice to homeowners (see Joe's comments on this point earlier). I will let the arguments I raised on this topic stand and not rehash those same points, other than to emphasize that just because the government has not banned commercial solicitation altogether doesn't eliminate the First Amendment problem. Second, the court claimed that any distinction made between commercial and noncommercial speech "must bear a relationship to the legitimate interests the government seeks to achieve." (p.10) This makes no sense. There is undoubtedly different standards for commercial and noncommercial speech, and it is entirely plausible to imagine a scenario where both pose similar harms, but the value society places on noncommercial speech does not justify regulating all speech--only the commercial variety. Instead of recognizing this point, the court went to great length to argue that commercial calls are much more annoying and therefore the distinction is justifiable on this basis.

While this is only a preliminary ruling, it is highly likely that the final opinion will mirror the points they raised in today's order. I hope the Supreme Court picks it up and clarifies this mess.

Re: More Than We Needed to Know

I guess Kim Jong Il believes that having No Dong acts as a deterrent.

Monday, October 06, 2003

More Than We Needed to Know

CSM is running a mildly interesting story on the WMD report, noteable mostly for its many references to North Korea's No Dong missiles. Yes, it seems that Kim Jong Il has No Dong. And by all reports, Saddam was trying to make a deal with him so the he could have No Dong as well. Those crazy, crazy dictators..

Friday, October 03, 2003

The Importance of True Believers

I think our biggest difference is not necessarily pragmatism vs purism, but a difference in valuation between independents and party supporters. You value independents at a 2:1 ratio over party faithful. I break the party faithful side up into two parts: the passive party faithful (the majority of them) and the active party faithful (the True Believers). Your ratio probably holds for the passive party faithful, but a True Believer is worth 10 independents. They're probably worth more.

Active party faithful are the people who will supply your campaign funds (both from their own pockets and through fund raisers), who will work your phone banks, who will put your sign in their yard, who will stand on the corner and hand out your flyers, who will get their family and friends excited about the election, who will write editorials to their local papers, who will call in to radio shows, who will bother to show up for boring mid-term elections, and who basically will make your party work. They are your grass roots. If you lose your True Believers, it doesn't matter how many independents you have, you can pack up your bags and go home, because your party is finished. They are dedicated people who care about politics. They are interested in these subjects and are considerably better informed on them than your average member of the public. They will give you their time and their money, their blood, sweat, and tears. But they expect something back.

True Believers don't do it because they are in love with the Democratic party. They believe in certains ideals that they expect the Democrats to uphold. When you betray those ideals (or, more often, ignore them), these will be the first people to notice it. And they will be the first ones to do something about it. They understand politics and don't expect you to win every battle, but they do expect you to at least fight the good fight on issues that are important to them. They have made a personal investment in you, and if you don't respect them, they will find someone who will. And when you lose them, you lose a hell of a lot more than just their votes. This is when you start hearing about how your party lacks passion and vision, and your campaigns start being referred to as dry, bland, and boring. This is the key. These are not just voters, these are your most important supporters. They might even still vote for you if you piss them off, but they'll no longer be active party faithful. They'll just be another voter.

The Democrats spent the the twenty years prior to 1992 ignoring these people, and the ten years since 1992 systematically alienating them. The Clintonian theory of triangulation is a slap in the face to them. Democrats need to expend time, effort, and political capital to build these people up the way the Republicans have. The Democratic support organizations like the NAACP, NOW, and the AFL/CIO are in the midst of long declines, staid, corrupt, and command less money and less loyalty with each passing election. Republican support groups are vital and powerful. This is not by accident and it is not a matter unrelated to party politics. Conservatives have spent considerable effort over a long period of time to build up these groups and to tie them to the Republican party. Why do Republican support groups not force their politicians to kow-tow? They don't have to. Republican leadership respects them, and they know it. The interactions between right-wing organizations and Republican leaders are genuine and meaningful. Those on the Democratic side are symbolic, at best.

Democrats don't need to provide passionate leadership to their grass roots. That's the opposite of what I'm suggesting. They need to nurture these liberal activists, because it is they, the True Believers, who provide passion to the rest of the party. If you don't nurture them, if you drive them out, you end up with a lifeless party with no vision... in other words, the current Democratic party.

I don't think there is this mutually exclusive situation where playing to your True Believers alienates independents. Clearly this is the mindset that has taken over the Democratic leadership, but I think it's a bad assumption. The Republicans have demonstrated that you can win by staying true to your basic ideals and marketing your campaign well. One of Karl Rove's strengths is the knowledge that most independent voters, and even many passive party supporters are such because they are not that much into politics. And that for people not that much into politics, image and intangibles (character, personality, personal appearance and mannerisms) are far more important than policy. They don't know the ins and outs of international trade. They won't spend time to figure out the difference between Gore and Bush's senior drug plans. All but the simplest elements of policy go in one ear and out the other. Having a strong message and selling it well is the key. Being moderate politically won't get you nearly as far with independent voters as having a strong, united party behind you, with legions of True Believers to sell your message.

The point is that I am not unpragmatic. I just have a different understanding of what success means and how to achieve it. In my view the Democratic party has been on a road to ruin for years, and desperate measures are in order to return it to viability. Clinton was a brilliant political mind and gave the party a false positive. Take him away and you're looking at a party that has done nothing but get its ass kicked for 20 years. I am willing to sacrifice short-term success to long-term goals. In your view, they've made a few mistakes, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the party.

I hope that the abstention and defection of a significant number of Democratic True Believers in 2000 will turn out to be a critical turning point for the party. Those actions sowed the seeds of dissent from which the Dean campaign sprouted. Additionally, if Gore had won (which, given his weak opposition and his 2 prosperous terms as VP, he should have done easily), the Democratic party would still be hard at work driving ever more of their True Believers out of politics or into third parties. Nothing like Dean would have happened at least until 2008 or 2012.

In any case, George Bush hasn't been all bad. No president has ever done more to demonstrate the stupidity of pre-emptive warfare, the importance of multilateralism, or the foolishness of imperialism than W.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

A victory for liberty and freedom from tyranny

No, I don't think the headline is too bold. United States District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ordered today that Zacarias Moussaoui may not be sentenced to death or be charged with having any involvement in the September 11th attacks because the government refuses to produce certain detainees in Government custody who may be able to provide favorable testimony for Moussaoui's defense.

Judge Brinkema's opinion may be found here and stories from the Washington Post and New York Times may be found here and here, respectively. I take some issue with the New York Times headline, which reads: "In Setback to U.S., Judge Refuses to Drop Moussaoui Case." Far from a setback, this case vindicates the fundamental right to a fair trial, which necessarily includes the right to mount a meaningful defense to criminal charges.

Some common ground

I agree almost completely with everything Joe and Barry have said. I think that money is a problem inasmuch as it requires the Democrats to do the splits--cozying up to the monied interests on the one hand while supposedly fighting for the little guy on the other--and raises the already incredibly high barrier to entry for third parties. My thoughts:

1. While many of Grossmann's fixes would lower the barrier to entry, as long as we have single winner districts won by the majority (or plurality) of votes--the system will always tend toward two dominant parties. Yes, there have been several times in our history when a viable third party sprung up, but it always either went away after one or two elections (Populists, Progressives, Reform Party), or it grew to the point that it devoured one of the then-major parties (Republicans). That said, Instant Runoff Voting would be a godsend and would alleviate the problems with general election voting I am referring to.

2. Joe has pointed out an area which I did not explain well enough. There are two ways to get noticed by one or both of the major parties--become the backbone and driving force of the party or become a swing group. I concede that by abandoning the Democrats en masse, people on the left can become a swing group of sorts. However, as I discussed in my original post on the topic, they would need to be twice the size of the centrists to move the party to you since a centrist vote you lose both deflates your total and increases the Republican total while a lefty vote lost only deflates the Democratic total. A far more effective strategy for liberals to controlling the party would be to dominate it in its organization and in its primaries. This we seem to agree on.

3. I wholeheartedly agree that the grassroots must be reclaimed. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Joe and other disaffected Democrats in that fight. However, that is a liberal vs. conservative fight, not a D vs. R one. If the liberals can turn the tide of what the conservatives have done over the past quarter century, it will be tremendously helpful. Hopefully, opposition to W. will fuel these fires. This, however, is a separate question from what Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives should do at general election time. Unless the claim is that liberals' deliberately putting a (insert expletive here) like Bush into power will help their cause in the long run because Bush engenders so much hatred, I don't think that abandoning the Democratic party to pave the way for Bush helps the liberal cause in any way. If that is the claim, I think that it is a dangerous and irresponsible way to win supporters.

If you'll notice, the conservative grassroots and the Republican party have a symbiotic relationship, but are not one and the same. There is an unspoken deal that the party will do the movement's bidding, within reason, when it is in power in exchange for the movement's unflinching electoral support and efforts to promote the party and undermine the opposition in the court of public opinion. This allows the party leaders to put on the front that they are "independent", "moderate", or "compassionate conservatives." In fact, during campaigns, Republicans often explicitly distance themselves from the rabid right to win votes from naive centrists.

I'm not sure why liberals and the Democratic party have such a comparatively dysfunctional relationship. The movement and the party's interest gropups for some reason demand total public fealty (e.g. the recent forums hosted by NARAL and the NAACP in which the presidential candidates were forced to show up, bow before the throne, and toe the group's line. Stuff like this does nobody any good except the Republicans. Second, the whole "unflinching electoral support" thing is a clearly foreign concept. Third, the party leaders may have failed to do the movement's bidding when in power. All of these things need to change.

At the core is the fact that both the right and the left have, for want of better descriptors, a purist faction and a pragmatist faction. Joe and I illustrate this divide on the left. If we could each become king tomorrow and rule by fiat, I suspect our policies would be nearly the same. The only disagreement is over strategy. The purists seek to force their positions and are willing to go down to defeat rather than compromise. The pragmatists will act strategically to win and will take compromise over defeat. The difference, and a significant one, is that there are far more purists on the left as on the right.

The right also doesn't rely on its elected leaders for passion or vision. They take their own conservative zeal and control the process so that the leaders simply come from their ranks. These leaders are essentially interchangeable. It's a bottom up strategy rather than a top down one. Liberals need to do the same. If the Democratic leaders aren't doing what the movement wants, it's the movement's fault for either being ineffective in seizing control of the selection process or for picking a bad apple.

If a "housecleaning" is necessary, then so be it. As a pragmatist, I realize that the Democrats can't win without keeping their purists happy. I don't have any particular love for anyone in the current leadership. What the purists need to understand is that we also can't win if the liberals transparently seize control and frighten off the centrists.

Because of the purist/pragmatist divide, however, I doubt a housecleaning is necessary. As Joe argues, Dean may be the answer. He is the embodiment of my exhortations for the purists to work within the party. He apparently satisfies the purists who hopefully will not now run to Nader. The pragmatists will support whoever wins the nomination. Ergo, he unites the left. What remains to be seen is whether he can draw enough centrists to actually win the election. If he can, problem solved. If not, we need to find a way to be liberals and work to shift the center while at the same time be Democrats and do what it takes to win.


From this week's TIME Magazine, in awarding their Performance of the Week to Al Sharpton:

Sparks flew when the 10 Democrats vying for the presidential nomination met for a debate in New York City last week. But it was a lagging candidate, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who used his hometown platform to get off the best lines. "Don't be defensive about just joining the party," he counseled General Wesley Clark, the latest entrant. "It's better to be a new Democrat that's a real Democrat than a lot of old Democrats up here that have been acting like Republicans all along." Sharpton got the loudest applause of the day.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003


I'm not going to take a bunch of quotes here, but this one struck me:

Plus, you establish yourself (and your faction) as unreliable supporters thus making it less likely that the party will move in your direction.

By your own testimony, the effect is exactly the opposite. If you were reliable, the party would see fit to move away from you to pick up the unreliable votes. Game theory and all that...

All that aside, Bill Clinton's tax policy was not such a great factor in 1994. It was his mere existence that pissed off Republicans. Decades of hard work laying down grassroots organizations and developing think tanks paid off for them when Reagan blew Carter out of the water. Over the same period most of the grassroots support for the Democrats had dried up. The civil rights and women's lib movements had for the most part accomplished their goals and dwindled. The labor unions have been in retreat since the beginning of the Cold War. There was no more Vietnam War to rally against, and the hippies were all grown up. The Democratic grassroots had dissolved. The Republicans owned at the grassroots level. They destroyed Carter, destroyed Mondale, destroyed Dukakis. The incumbents in congress carry a lot of inertia, but they were eating away there too. Clinton came as a shock to them. He understood that the Republicans had altered the political landscape, and he won, aside from his considerable personal political skills, by invading their territory (not to mention the massive helping hand that Perot gave him).

The Republicans were infuriated and hated him with a passion from the day he took office, and haven't stopped hating him yet. They won in '94 because they were fired up, and because their tactic for selling the core values their grassroots movement had popularized, the Contract With America, was pure political gold.

When so much had gone against them for the past 20 years, the Democrats were tremendously encouraged by Clinton's success. But they learned the wrong lesson from it. Instead of trying to reclaim the political landscape, they decided, like Clinton, to cede the landscape to the Republicans and try to co-exist in it with them. As a long-term strategy it is suicide. They will never be as good within that context as the Republicans. This is the exact reason why the Iraq resolution failed to have the effect that the Democratic leadership had hoped for. And even when they do win it is only a half victory as they have to abandon a certain degree of their core values to do so. In my opinion any liberals who take action to try to divorce the party leadership from this tactic are not sabotaging the Democrats, but are doing them a service. The grassroots must be reclaimed. Four years of George W. Bush is not too high a price to pay.

I view Howard Dean as a direct response to this problem. I think much of his support has little to do with him personally. For whatever reason the faction of liberals who understand what needs to be done claimed him as their guy and their threw support behind him early. And it has spread like wildfire. I suspect there are many who support him, not for the man himself, but for the revolutionary sort of campaign that his supporters have built around him. I count myself in that category. I made my first-ever political campaign contribution last week, to Dean, for precisely this reason. I still have plenty of reservations about the guy, but his campaign is exactly what the party needs. His campaign is a middle finger extended at the party leadership. It is a statement that we will bring liberal activists back to the front. That we will instill at the ground level of the party the sort of passion and vision that we need to compete with the religious right, the NRA, and the right-wing think-tanks. That we will no longer be embarrassed to call ourselves liberal. If he can win this election, I think (I hope!) he can effect the sort of housecleaning at the upper echelons of the party leadership that is needed to turn things around.

ps. There are number of other sources that cite a 49.3% turnout of voting age people. In any case it's difference of a point and a half and is pathetic in comparison to most other democracies (although one has to wonder what kind of monkey business is going on in Guinea-Bissau).

Re: Our Sad Political System

Blame can only get us so far. I regret that my earlier posts had attempted to assign blame, but I guess my main purpose was to emphasize that we still are (at least purportedly) a system by the people, and if the people are unhappy, then the people should demand change. The problem is that people are either unaware how unhappy they have become or are unaware how happy they could be. So I shift my attention to potential fixes. It is important to identify the problems to know how to solve them, but I think we all know where the problem lies (if you aren't sure what I think, try hitting the shift key with the number four a few times).

One potential for change is to promote a successful third party--one that really, really represents the people. In each of the major shifts in parties that we have experienced in our country's short history, the motivation appears to have been that the options just didn't capture the heart of the people. If ever there was a time where this was true, now seems to be it.

I stumbled across an interesting website online:, a summary of the thesis of Matt Grossmann, a professor in Berkeley's Political Science Department. In Chapter 7, Grossmann proposes some interesting recommendations for structural reform and is worth browsing.

I mention the multiparty system not as a genuine aspiration--at least not right now, but to emphasize that we should be looking for answers, not assigning blame. I think that some change can be had within the two-party system, and this is probably the best place to start. When the campaign finance laws get shot down by the Supreme Court, what's the next logical step to reform?

We must find a way to detach money from the process, at least as best as practicable. And we must find a way to wake up the people. If enough voters took the issue of campaign financing seriously, we would not need regulations to ensure that candidates did not take hard or soft money, as anyone who did would not get the votes. One sensible approach, then, might be to encourage activism to vote for the candidate that is least tainted by these funds. I'm sure there are plenty of sources to obtain such information online.

I know this post doesn't really speak to our earlier discussion, but we seem to be nibbling at the greater problems underlying the current political climate. If the topic of debate is truly "our sad political system," then why not discuss ways to make it "our happy political system"?


I absolutely agree with Joe that, all other things being equal, the rational major party politicians will want to tack to the middle, as Clinton, Gore, and Bush did (at least he presented himself that way). I also agree with Joe that this is not necessarily a desirable thing for anyone but the voters in the center. However, I disagree with his choice of remedy. I absolutely maintain that the general election is too late for a voter to do anything beneficial other than help their most preferred viable candidate win. He didn't like the way Gore tacked to the center, so he didn't vote. The result: Bush wins and the country's policy course has been to the right of center (even without Bush turning out to be even worse than he presented himself)--and to the right of Gore. Had Gore won (and he was a little more honest about his intentions during the campaign), we would have had a policy course slightly left of center. I fail to see how that isn't an improvement from the perspective of those on the left.

Plus, the presidency carries with it the opportunity to use the bully pulpit, set the agenda, and use the power of the office to enact many of your pet policies under the radar. Bush is using all of these to drag the country to the right. While this is going on, Democrats sit and bicker amongst themselves about whose fault it is that we're where we are. It is especially ironic that the very people who sat on their hands in 2000 when they had an opportunity to prevent this monstrosity complain the loudest--blaming the party for abandoning them, rather than the other way around. As Vince Lombardi famously said, winning isn't everything. It's the only thing. We are in this state for one reason: the Republicans have grasped this point while the Democrats have not.

The attacks on Clinton from the left are especially unwarranted. He lost Congress in 1994 because he took the unpopular step of raising taxes to fix the economy. Also, because of the point made above; Republicans united behind their candidates, Democrats hesitated and failed to support theirs. This same phenomenon is the real reason the center of political dialogue has shifted to the right. Rather than take on the real enemies on the right in the court of public opinion, those on the left instead turned their fire on Clinton. The internecine war between the factions of the party presented Republicans an open shot at setting the tone. Don't get me wrong, the Republicans have as many divisions as the Democrats but are simply better able to avoid airing all of their dirty laundry in public and shooting themselves in the ass in the process.

As for this theory that something good can ever possibly come from deliberately trying to sabotage your party and hand an election to the opposition to make a point, it is counterintuitive and unsupported by any empirical evidence. All you do is allow the opposition the opportunity to run things and change minds for four years while at the same time enraging the people who you ultimately want to join in your cause by stabbing them in the back. Plus, you establish yourself (and your faction) as unreliable supporters thus making it less likely that the party will move in your direction.

Therefore, I still believe that failing to support your preferred party in a general election is irrational. However, Joe makes a very good point that the voters on the right and left must have some power to prevent their party from running willy-nilly to the center. They must be able to ensure that their party does not become "visionless" and "grasping for an identity."

Fortunately, voters on the left do have those means. As I mentioned in the previous post, these voters can 1) dominate Democratic primaries and ensure that only true believers win, and 2) make concerted efforts to make a united front in presenting the case to the public so as to shift the political center of gravity to the left. #1 will make the previous argument moot, while #2 both makes #1 easier and also makes an ultimate victory easier. The conservative Republicans do both well. The Christian Coalition and the NRA essentially determine primary results in many places, while Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter preach the word to the ignorant masses. This is why we seldom see Republicans commiting electoral hara-kiri as the Democrats did in 2000 and why we even more seldom see anyone describe their party as directionless.

There is no reason why liberals can't do the exact same thing. The only problem is that it is hard work. On the first point, it involves organizing and participating in tedious party-building activities and get-out-the-vote campaigns. On the second, it involves breaking into the conservative media monopoly and pitching your message in lowest-common-denominator terms. It's much easier to vote for Ralph Nader and then bitch about how the party abandoned you.

Incidentally, the turnout in 2000 was 51% of the voting age population--which means that ineligible noncitizens and felons are included--higher than both 1988 and 1996. See

Our Sad Political System

[Joe, I released your post--it was "draft" mode. Please fix it if I did wrong.]
[Dave, my post wasn't finished... but I've finished it now, so no matter...]
[Joe, it was I, Barry, who released your post because Dave had already weighed in on it. ;-)]
[Barry, you sneaky bastard. :)]

I think we've been over the brunt of my arguments on this issue before, so I'm just going to take a scattershot approach and hit a few of Dave's points that I find objectionable.

Therefore, the choice for the rest of the Democrats was, as it usually is these days: filibuster, register symbolic opposition, or go along.

I find it difficult to believe that there is no point with regards to constraining the unlimited nature of the resolution, negotiations with the UN, sources of funding for the operation, funding caps, postwar planning, congressional oversight, etc, on which the Democrats could agree. I'm fairly certain that even genuinely pro-war Democrats would not have objected to adding some language on one or more of these issues to the resolution. Of course this would have led to a confrontation with the House and the administration where a compromise would have to be reached. Which is why they made no effort in this regard, and which again goes to my point that what the Democrats did on this occasion was a matter of political expediency, rather than conscience.

2) Bush had sworn to the Senators that he intended to get the U.N.'s support for any action and that open-ended resolution was a bargaining chip to strengthen his hand in international negotiations

I reject the notion that anyone who voted for that resolution with this intention in mind had the least bit of respect of the UN Security Council. The idea that Bush should be able to bludgeon the Security Council into supporting a war with the threat that he would otherwise ignore them is a grave insult to the integrity and authority of the council and of international law and makes a mockery of anyone who voted for the resolution and feigns respect for the UN. Blackmail is not a path to legitimacy. I wrote the following shortly before the bombs started falling back in March:

"When President Bush first addressed the UN regarding his war on Iraq last fall, he presented them with an untenable choice: either fall into line or fall into irrelevance. It was an act of political blackmail. The effect was that even had the security council authorized the war on those terms such a decision would be purely an effort to save the council from irrelevance, which paradoxically would have robbed the decision, and the council, of integrity and legitimacy. The only viable way out that could have salvaged the body's integrity would have been for the UN to deny authorization of the war and for the US to abide by that decision. "

From the perspective of the individual voter on the right or left, it is better to fall in line with your more preferred major party as well--no matter how far it moves to the center--unless it appears that there is a third party alternative that is more favorable with a legitimate chance to win.

Your game theory arguments don't seem to posit much intelligence on the part of politicians. As long as this is the approach of the majority of voters it becomes subject to gaming by the candidates wherein we end up with rather awful politics. For example, 1992 where we had three essentially conservative candidates for president after Bill Clinton realized that "triangulation" made Democratic voters irrelevant to him as long as he was slightly less conservative than Bush. Or the 2000 election wherein Karl Rove was wise to Gore's rehash of Clinton's triangulation and put Bush right there next to him, resulting in possibly the most staid, boring, and lifeless campaign in US history, and a voter turnout of less than 50% of eligible voters (the lowest percentage since these things have been tracked). As long as any politician knows he is guaranteed your vote you have surrendered your primary form of power in the political system.

I like Bill Clinton a lot. But I still blame the guy for destroying the Democratic party. He led the party on a rightward lurch, playing to exactly the sentiment you espouse, and has left the part visionless and grasping for an identity for the past 10 years. He shifted the whole center of political dialogue in this country to the right. He lost Congress for them and allowed one of the weakest GOP Presidential candidates ever, to take the Whitehouse in 2000. Clinton is a brilliant and charismatic man with phenomenal rhetorical skills, and this whole tactic worked out fine for him. But it fucked the party. This is the danger in allowing parties to feel that their traditional constituency will vote for them regardless of what they say or do. Your vote exists within a larger context that the immediate election at hand. You can win the battle but lose the war. And you simply have to make a priority judgement, can I accomplish more by voting for the major party candidate of my choice, or can I accomplish more by not voting for them. It is a perfectly rational decision to evaluate.

Therefore, the party has the incentive to do what it has to to attract swing voters, while party stalwarts have an incentive to support the party.

This rationally suggests that anyone who acts the role of a party stalwart is a sucker. You are inviting your party to ignore you. Whereas if you rebel when they don't please you, either by voting for the other side or by not voting, all of the sudden you're a magic swing voter and the party has incentive to pay attention to you. Frankly, I don't like the Democratic party that much. I am not averse to voting for Republicans, although their core party values have taken a dive over the past 20 years. Whatever happened to their libertarian leanings, fiscal discipline, and support for states' rights? But I digress... If Bush hadn't bought his way to victory in the 2000 primaries I probably would have voted for McCain over Gore. I owe no fealty to the Democrats. If they please me, I vote for them. If I think they're acting like jackasses, I won't.

I am a liberal, this is true. In our country apparently that means I'm stuck with the Democrats. But I can barely tolerate the DNC leadership and have not been impressed with the Democrats' congressional leaders for some time either. If it takes some bleeding to create turnover at the top of the party, I say let 'em bleed. The fact that Howard Dean is the top dog in the primary race suggests that I am not alone in this position. Dean and his staffers get it. His support base gets it. Who's to say that the party's pathetic turnout in 2000 and 2002 didn't have something to do with that?